February 17, 2006

Danish Muslims see silver lining to cartoon crisis

By Simon Johnson and Kim McLaughlin

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Fury among Muslims worldwide over
Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad has led to deadly
violence and bitter accusations between the West and the
Islamic world. But Niamatullah Basharat sees a silver lining.

"Every Muslim feels hurt by these drawings," the Danish
imam said at the small Nusrat Djahan mosque on the outskirts of

"But Denmark has talked more about Islam in the last few
weeks than it has in the last 10 years, so I hope it will do
some good."

Many Muslims hope that despite the short-term damage to
community relations, the spotlight on religious and ethnic
minorities will give them a greater voice in Danish politics.

But so far images of angry Muslim crowds burning the Danish
flag and stoning Danish embassies, and a boycott of Danish
products in the Middle East, have polarized opinion instead.

The cartoonists who produced the images of the Prophet for
the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten are in hiding and under
police protection.

A new poll by A&B Analyze for Web-based newspaper Altinget
showed 45 percent of Danes have less sympathy now for Muslims
than before the cartoon backlash. Another recent poll showed
support for the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party rising.

But Muslims say now could be the time to build bridges.

"In the middle of the chaos I still think it will become a
positive thing. Danes and Muslims are out now talking, telling
each other things that could have been said years ago," said
Fathi El-Abed of the Danish Palestinian Friendship Association.

Naser Khader, a Muslim member of parliament and founder of
the new pro-dialogue Democratic Muslim Network, believes that
"in three to five years we will look back at this matter also
and see that it has been a positive step in integration."


Denmark has been cracking down in immigration since the
current center-right government came to power in 2001 with the
support of the openly anti-immigrant Danish People's Party.

The DPP, whose leader Pia Kjaersgaard has called some
Danish Muslims "enemies within" and "weeds," is closing in on
the opposition Social Democrats for second place in party
rankings, polling 18 percent versus 14.5 percent a month ago.

"We enjoy support now because we've been very stern in our
protection of freedom of speech," said Soren Espersen, the
DPP's foreign policy spokesman.

"We've been criticized by countries that are not democratic
and in a way it's a compliment to be criticized by some of the
most horrific dictatorships in the world."

Some voices accuse politicians of inflammatory rhetoric.

"As I see it, if the mainstream stakeholders, politicians
and the media don't distance themselves from Islamophobic
rhetoric, we are going to have a very split society," said
Mandana Zarrehparvar at Danish Institute for Human Rights.

Unemployment is high among minorities. Soon after Prime
Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen came to power, laws were brought
in restricting immigrants' right to asylum and welfare

The number of people granted asylum has dropped by more
than 80 percent since 2001, says the Danish Immigration

"The legislation indirectly discriminates against ethnic
minorities," said Zarrehparvar.

Some scholars warn the cartoon furor has dented trust.

"I'm afraid the implications are serious," said political
science professor Peter Nannestad at the university of Aarhus.
"The cartoon row has definitely reduced Danes' trust in Muslim
immigrants and may have diminished immigrants' trust in Danes."